By Salman Khurshid
Two recent events have persuaded me to write this letter to my fellow country citizens. First, an interview of Arif Mohammed Khan by the inimitable Karan Thapar; the other, a letter written to Prime Minister Modi by 18 eminent Muslim citizens. But before I proceed with the content two caveats are necessary.
Arif Khan and I have a history that goes back to his vigorous advocacy of his brand of secularism in the Shah Bano controversy. I had not only opposed him, though analytically and not entirely on the understanding of the Muslim Personal Law Board, but also written about it in a book, ‘At Home in India’. Many years later I supported his bid for heading the India International Islamic Centre for reasons not relevant here.
As for the letter of 18 worthies I admit in our democracy a minimum level of conversation has to be maintained between the citizen and the government of the day, no matter how unacceptable it might be ideologically or historically. But of course on manner and merit of the conversation my response follows.
In all fairness I must record that the interview was given by Arif Khan, as an Indian and not as a Muslim, as though there is a crucial difference. Interestingly in the Karan Thapar interview on being asked if the recent election results surprised him, Arif Khan replied, ‘Why? I have been warning the country since Shah Bano that thus will happen.’
On being asked whether it did not worry him that the ruling establishment did not have a single Muslim MP, he replied, ‘How is that relevant? Just as it was when I was MP the present MPs also represent all voters, not just Hindus or Muslims. It is a colonial mindset that makes people speak of religion of the public representatives.’
However, what took the cake was when Karan Thapar sought his reaction to important functionaries of the BJP telling Muslims to go to Pakistan etc., he contorted his face like no one else in public life can and said, ‘It is you people in the press to blame. Why do you cover such people and broadcast their views to the world?’
Pardon my sentiment, but does it seem a bit like ‘the King can do no wrong’? And we know that for some the majority is king. Fundamental rights and constitutional protection against majority opinion in some circumstances is for the birds!
Not surprisingly Arif Khan asserted that minority is a neither here nor there term undefined in the Constitution. Interestingly Karan Thapar informed the viewer that Arif Khan had at various times been a member of the Janata Party, Congress, BSP and BJP. We were not told though why he left the BJP.
But what he himself made clear is that identity is inimical to democracy, secularism as practiced all along is a scheme for garnering votes of minority groups to undermine the importance of majority opinion, that inclusion means absorption.
If there is a way of summing up this understanding of democracy, it is ‘unity in uniformity’, not unity in diversity! Arif Khan, never to accept defeat, will hopefully respond and tell me how wrong I am. But then I have heard that before, in the 2019 elections!
Now about the letter by eminent Muslims. It was prompted by the Prime Minister’s speech to newly elected BJP MPs. Admittedly, it was a departure from his speeches of the past, both from various fora and during the campaign. It was also conspicuous for mentioning minorities and strengthening inclusion by adding ‘Sab ka vishvas’ to ‘Sab ka Saath, sab ka vikas.’
But what many observers and indeed the signatories to the letter missed was that reference to minorities was not in the context of reparation for wrongs done, or securing justice where it was lacking in the past.
If the latter is their position, in all fairness, they need to come clean on efforts of the UPA government such as Sachar Committee and Rangnath Misra Commission reports. The signatories had to enquire where the new government in a new avataar draws the line of appeasement.
One can also not overlook the painful fact that as the PM spoke there were minority persons being attacked and assaulted; ghastly, inhuman assaults on children being put through the looking glass of religion as though even a child’s gruesome rape is to be used not for reflecting on our society but to settle communal scores.
The letter writers carefully reproduced the crucial sentences from the PM’s speech: “The way the poor have been cheated, the minorities have been deceived the same way. It would have been good if their education, their health had been in focus. Minorities have been made to live in fear by those who believed in vote-bank politics. I expect from you in 2019 that you would be able to make a hole in that deception. We have to earn their trust.”
As I read it the concern seems to be show how others have failed minorities rather than accept that for whatever reason there is a failure to ensure equal opportunity and respect.
The letter writers noted education, jobs and skills development but then went on to say something that the PM may not have looked forward to: “Confidence-building measures by ensuring adequate protection under Constitution and the law of the land. A reassurance to the innocent to ensure that hooligans would not be allowed a free run and would certainly be punished.”
It would be interesting to know if the letter will get a response in toto or we will see a limited out reach on education and health, significant mercies for the weary. Be that as it may, even these mercies have been questioned in the past and labelled appeasement and vote bank politics, a phrase repeated by the PM.
The UPA and Congress party record on minorities is often criticized by other ‘secular’ parties in addition to the opprobrium we suffer at the hands of the right wing. But to this day no one has shown that they did anything substantive beyond empty slogans and symbolism.
Throughout our commitment to the minorities has been consistent with the constitutional mandate that includes the idea of substantive equality and affirmative action. We must not forget that our jurisprudence of affirmative action has been built upon the concept of social and educational backwardness and does not exclude any group on the ground of religion.
Today we are told that some Muslims (women?) have voted for the BJP. Vast number of citizens have voted for the BJP, we are told, because of national pride. One can hardly complain about that, even if it causes political darkness (hopefully temporary) for our party.
To cite Amartya Sen, the election might be lost but the battle of ideas must continue. This is as much for us as for the people of India, irrespective of who they voted for. The vote is transitory but the idea eternal.